From WikiAhmadiyya, the free encyclopedia on Islam and Ahmadiyyat

Apostasy in Islam is the conscious abandonment of the faith by a Muslim. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes Islam guarantees complete freedom of religion and that there is therefore no punishment for apostasy. 

Apostasy in the Quran

The Quran rejects punishment for apostasy

The Quran mentions apostasy on several occasions without ever once outlining any punishment:

Those who believe, then disbelieve, then again believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief, Allah will never forgive them nor will He guide them to the way.

- Quran 4:138

The verse above allows a believer to apostasise and then return to belief, then apostasise a second time and then continue increasing in their disbelief for the rest of their lives. If the punishment for apostasy in Islam were death, there would be no chance to 'again believe' and certainly no chance to 'increase in disbelief'. On other occasions the Quran makes it clear that the only response to apostasy should be informing the apostates that Allah does not love their actions:

O ye who believe! whoso among you turns back from his religion, then let it be known that in his stead Allah will soon bring a people whom He will love and who will love Him.

- Quran 5:55

A section of the People of the Book say, ‘Believe in that which has been revealed unto the believers, in the early part of day, and disbelieve in the latter part thereof; perchance they may return; And obey none but him who follows your religion;’ - Say, ‘Surely, the true guidance, the guidance of Allah, is that one may be given the like of that which has been given to you’ 

- Quran 3:73-74

The Quran guarantees freedom of religion

There should be no compulsion in religion.

- Quran 2:257

Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve.

- Quran 18:30

If you turn away, then know that on Our Messenger lies only the clear conveyance of the Message.

- Quran 5:93

The Quran only allows capital punishment for murder or treasonous rebellion

Some claim not only is apostasy punishable in Islam, but it is punishable by death. However, the Quran makes it clear on several occasions that the only occasions when capital punishment can be applied is for murder or rebellion. For example:

Whosoever killed a person - unless it be for killing a person or for creating disorder in the land - it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.

- Quran 5:33

Apostasy in the Ahadith


No hadith can overrule a principle outlined in the Quran. The Quran is the primary scripture in Islam, while the ahadith are supplementary. The Quran remains in exactly the perfect form as it was revealed to Muhammadsa, whereas the ahadith were collected decades and sometimes centuries later. Therefore, where there is a contradiction between the Quran and a hadith, it is the hadith which is discarded.  Even so, of the thousands of ahadith found in Bukhari - the most authentic collection - many instances are found which illustrate there was no punishment for apostasy, whereas perhaps as few as just four imply there was. The fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community presented a detailed analysis of each of the ahadith from the latter category. 

Abu Musa & Muadh bin Jabal order the execution of a Jewish man

Abu Musa said: I came to the Prophetsa...and he said: '...O Abu Musa! (or `Abdullah bin Qais!) Go to Yemen.'" The Prophet then sent Muadh bin Jabal after him and when Muadh reached him, he spread out a cushion for him and requested him to get down (and sit on the cushion). Behold! There was a fettered man beside Abu Musa. Muadh asked: "Who is this (man)?" Abu Muisa said: "He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism." Then Abu Muisa requested Muadh to sit down but Muadh said: "I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and His Apostle" (for such cases) and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed.

- Bukhari

Here, on the one hand Muadhra says that this is the judgment of Allah and His Messenger. (However, he does not mention as to when this judgment was passed and what was its wording.) On the other hand neither is there a mention of any such Divine decree in the Holy Quran nor is there a record of any such verdict of the Holy Prophetsa in ahadith that as a consequence of just apostasy one should be killed. This is why it is more credible to deduce from what Muadhra said that it was his own reasoning, his personal opinion. From the Holy Quran and ahadith only this can be confirmed. 

Then again, no detail is given regarding the incident, as to why the Jew was brought there? What did he do? Each aspect of the narration is ambiguous and is open to supposition and conjecture. There is the possibility that he was caught for some crime other than that of apostasy and was brought there for that reason. Or that he might have engaged in combat against Islam. As all these facts are vague, so reliance on an ambiguous hadith - which is merely based on the inference of a companion - in such an important issue and to pass judgment contrary to the manifest verses of the Holy Quran is extremely unjust.

- Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, The Truth About the Alleged Punishment for Apostasy in Islam

Three cases where blood of a Muslim can be shed

The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In qisas for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (apostate).

- Bukhari

There are some other elements that seem incorrect. For example, the saying attributed to the Messenger of Allahsa to stone to death a married man if he commits adultery is found nowhere in the Holy Quran. Then, how is it possible that the Holy Prophetsa could have issued a commandment against the Holy Quran? Moreover, the Quranic injunction that no one should marry an adulterer unless the marrying person is also an adulteress (24:4) clearly shows that the adulterer was not to be stoned to death. Otherwise it would not be possible for him to marry anyone as he could not survive the death punishment!

...Therefore, keeping in mind all these factors, this hadith needs further consideration. Its wording may be correct, but its meaning needs in-depth analysis so that no action or saying attributed to the Holy Prophetsa may be deemed to contradict the Holy Quran. The Holy Prophetsa was always praying for forgiveness of those who were well-known apostates, and to attribute to him that he advocated death penalty is a clear-cut insult to himsa.

- Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, The Truth About the Alleged Punishment for Apostasy in Islam

Allegation Ali ordered apostates to be burnt alive

Narrated Ikrimah: Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn Abbas, who said: "Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophetsa said: 'Don't punish (anybody) with Allah's Punishment.' No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophetsa said, 'If somebody discards his religion, kill him.'

- Bukhari

For a tradition to be declared authentic it is not enough for it to be found in an authentic compilation. There are other established measures which are applied to every tradition. The most important among these measures is the examination in depth and detail of the reputation and character of the narrators forming the links in the chain of narrators.

There are scholars who have devoted their whole lifetime to such studies and, thanks to their most painstaking and thorough investigations, we are today in a position to examine every link of the chain of narrators in any compilation. Let us turn our attention to the tradition under consideration. This hadith falls into the category of ahad gharib (i.e., a tradition in which there is only one chain of narrators connected to the same single source) because all the five books of hadith derive their chain of narrators from Ikramah as their ultimate source...

It is important to bear in mind that the tradition under discussion is a tradition quoted by a single chain of narrators and has no jurisprudence even if it is considered to be correct by some. In this context, it is essential to learn more about Ikramah and his reputation.

Ikramah was a slave of Ibn Abbas, and also his pupil - a very indifferent pupil, for that matter, and a back-bencher of the first order. He confirms this himself by saying that Ibn Abbas was so infuriated with his lack of interest in his studies and by his truancy that he would bind his hand and foot to compel him to remain present during his sermons.

He was an opponent of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam, and was inclined towards the Khawarij in particular at the time when differences between Hazrat Ali and Ibn Abbas began to emerge. Later, during the Abbaside period, (the Abbasides, it should be borne in mind, were extremely antagonistic to all those who were in any way allied to Hazrat Ali’s progeny because of political apprehensions), Ikramah acquired great renown and respect as a versatile scholar, obviously because of his hostility towards Hazrat Ali and links with the Khawarij.

Dhahbi states that because lkramah was a Kharijite, his traditions were unreliable and dubious. An expert on the Punishment for Apostasy, Imam Ali bin Al-Medaini, is of the same opinion. Yahya bin Bekir used to say that the Kharijites of Egypt, Algiers and Morocco were strongly allied to Ikramah.

It has generally been observed that the traditions of capital Punishment for Apostasy emanate mainly from incidents in Basra, Kula and Yemen. The people of the Hijaz (Mecca and Medina) were totally unfamiliar with them. One cannot shut one’s eyes to the fact that the tradition from Ikramah under discussion is known as an Iraqi tradition. Let us recall the famous Meccan Imam, Taus bin Kaisan, who used to say that Iraqi traditions were generally doubtful.

That is not all. A great scholar, Yahya bin Saeed Al-Ansari, has strongly censured Ikramah for his unreliability in general and has gone to the extent of calling him a kadhab, that is to say an extreme liar of the first water.

Abdullah bin Al-Harith quotes a very interesting incident which he witnessed himself when he visited Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas. He was deeply shocked and dismayed to find Ikramah bound to a post outside the door of Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas. He expresseed his shock at this cruelty by asking Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas if he had no fear of God in him. What he obviously meant was that Ikramah, with all his renown of piety and so on, did not deserve such abase and cruel treatment at the hands of his late master’s own son. In response to this, Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas justified his act by pointing out that Ikramah had the audacity to attribute false things to his late father, Ibn Abbas. What better judge of the character of Ikramah could there be than Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas? No wonder, therefore, that Imam Malik bin Anas (95–179 AH), the pioneer compiler of hadith and an Imam of jurisprudence held in the highest repute throughout the Muslim world, held that the traditions narrated by Ikramah were unreliable.

The following scholars of great repute have declared that Ikramah had a strong disposition towards exaggeration: Imam Yayha bin Saeed Al Ansari, Ali bin Abdullah bin Abbas and Ara bin Abi Rabae.

This, then, is the man who we are dealing with and on whose sole authority the matter of the lives of all those people who change their faith is left hanging till the end of time.

Whenever the name of Ibn Abbas appears at the head of a chain of narrators, the vast majority of Muslim scholars is overawed. They forget the fact that because of his name and reputation concocters of false traditions tended to trace their fabricated chain of narrators back to him. Therefore, all traditions beginning with the name of Ibn Abbas must be properly judged and examined.

Moreover, even if Ibn Abbas is honestly reported by a narrator, the possibility of human error on Ikramah’s part regarding what Ibn Abbas might have said cannot be ruled out. The following would be a good illustration of the case in point:

Ibn Abbas says that Umar used to say that the Holy Prophetsa said that crying over the dead brought chastisement to the dead. Ibn Abbas further said that after Umar died, he related this tradition to Ayesha who said, ‘God forgive Umar!’ By God, the Holy Prophetsa said nothing of the kind. He only said that if the descendants of a disbeliever cried over his dead body, their action tended to augment his punishment, and by way of argument, Ayesha also said, ‘Sufficient for us is the saying of the Quran: “Verily no soul can bear the burden of another.” 

If a man of Hazrat Umar’s stature and integrity can misunderstand the Holy Prophetsa, however rarely it might have happened, how much more is there danger of ordinary narrators misunderstanding the reports of Ibn Abbas?

With such wide possibilities for the miscarriage of the message of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa, how can a sane person rely entirely on the evidence of this hadith and draw conclusions of far-reaching import regarding matters of life and death and fundamental human rights?

It is likely that Ikramah concocted this tradition, attributing it to Ibn Abbas, as it was his wont to do, according to Ali bin Ibn Abbas.

When we examine the subject matter of the tradition under consideration, we find the contents to be erroneous in several ways.

A person of Hazrat Ali’s stature is presumed to be unaware of the fact that Islam categorically prohibits a person to be punished by fire. The words ‘slay whosoever changes his faith’ are so general that they can be interpreted in many ways. They can apply to men, women and children, whereas according to Imam Abu Hanifa and some other schools of jurisprudence, an apostate woman can never be slain.

The Arabic word deen (religion) used in this tradition is a general word meaning any religion, not Islam specifically. Even the faith of idolaters is referred to as deen. (Quran 109:7) In the light of the general nature of the language used, how can one restrict the application of this tradition to a Muslim who renounces his faith? In strict legal terms, according to this tradition anyone who changes his religion, whatever that religion is, would have to be put to death. It would mean slaying the Jew who became a Christian, slaying the Christian who became a Muslim, and slaying the pagan who adopted any new faith. ‘Whosoever’ also transcends the geographical boundaries of Muslim states, implying that anywhere in the world, anyone who changes his faith - be he an aborigine of Australia, a pygmy of Africa or an Indian of South America - must be slain forthwith the moment he renounces his previous faith and accepts another one.

Islam lays a great deal of emphasis on proselytizing, so that it is binding upon every Muslim to become a preacher in the path of Allah. How ironical it is therefore that many renowned Muslim scholars today negate the very spirit of Islamic jihad by audaciously sticking to the narrow-minded view that Islam dictates that whosoever changes his faith, meaning in this context Islam, must be put to death forthwith. What about those of other faiths? Islam declares it to be an obligation upon Muslims to stand committed to the noble goal of constantly endeavoring to change the faith of all non-Muslims around them by peaceful means. This task is so important and demanding that every Muslim is instructed to stick to the endeavor till his last breath

The Holy Quran states: "Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation. and reason with them on the basis of that which is best. Thy Lord knows best those who have strayed away from His way; and He knows best those who are rightly guided." (16.126)

The advocates of the bigoted inhumane doctrine of death upon apostasy never visualise its effect on international and inter religious human relationships. Why can they not see that according to their view of Islam, adherents of all religions have a fundamental right to change their faith but not so the Muslims, and that Islam has the prerogative of converting others but all adherents of different faiths are deprived of any right to convert Muslims to their faith? What a sorry picture of Islamic justice this presents!

To conclude, apostasy is the clear repudiation of a faith by a person who formerly held it. Doctrinal differences, however grave, cannot be deemed to be apostasy. The Punishment for Apostasy lies in the hand of God Almighty, against whom the offence has been committed. Apostasy which is not aggravated by some other crime is not punishable in this world. This is the teaching of God. This was the teaching of the Holy Prophetsa. This is the view confirmed by Hanafi jurists, Fateh al-Kadeer Chalpi, Hafiz ibn Qayyim, Ibrahim Nakhai, Sufyan Thauri and many others. 

- Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Murder in the Name of Allah

Men who stole camels, murdered owner and apostatised

Some people from the tribe of Ukl came to the Prophetsa and embraced Islam. The climate of Medina did not suit them, so the Prophetsa ordered them to go to the (herd of) camels of charity and to drink, their milk and urine (as a medicine). They did so, and after they had recovered from their ailment (became healthy) they turned renegades (reverted from Islam) and killed the shepherd of the camels and took the camels away. The Prophetsa sent (some people) in their pursuit and so they were (caught and) brought, and the Prophet ordered that their hands and legs should be cut off and that their eyes should be branded with heated pieces of iron, and that their cut hands and legs should not be cauterized, till they die.

- Bukhari

These people killed the keeper of the camels and ran away with the herd. Although it is true that these people had become apostates, their punishment was not a result of their apostasy but of their murder of the keeper of the she-camels.

- Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Murder in the Name of Allah

Apostasy Wars

The Apostasy or Ridda/Riddah Wars took place after the time of Muhammadsa during the caliphate of Abu Bakr. Classical Islamic historians such as Tabari assert the wars took place because the apostates rebelled against the Islamic government, ie. they did not occur due to theological differences but due to political treason:

History clearly negates that Hadrat Abu Bakrra had anyone got killed only for the crime of apostasy or that he ever had someone declared apostate and had him thus killed despite his being known as a Muslim, despite his reciting the Kalima, despite his observing of Salat facing the Kaba of the Muslims and despite his believing in the payment of Zakat. The fact of the matter is that he only opposed those apostates who, along with apostatizing, raised open revolt against the Islamic government and had driven out its governors and administrators from their regions and were extremely cruel to the Muslims and had them brutally murdered. Abu Bakrra battled against these wretches because these barbarians had commenced the cruelty and fighting and had started to murder innocent Muslims. 

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, The Truth About the Alleged Punishment for Apostasy in Islam

See also